Paid ads from real estate agents, in the form of advice columns designed to blend in with news stories and other editorial content, have long been a staple of newspapers’ print real estate sections.

Now, in an effort to keep pace with the digital era, news publications across the country are beginning to publish similar posts crafted by advertisers online, in exchange for cash.

“Native advertisements,” also known as “sponsored content,” are ads that look like news articles and appear on news websites next to news articles.

Due to their design and placement, they offer generous exposure and perhaps even an air of authority to marketers. As a result, more real estate agents and brokers may gravitate towards the advertising option in the years ahead.

Serving the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts, Real Estate Associates — winner of Inman News’ latest #madREskillz contest — is one brokerage that’s experimenting with sponsored content.

Craig Orsi, who helps coordinate Real Estate Associates’ marketing efforts, in an email interview with Inman News explained the ins and outs of sponsored content and the brokerage’s “short-and-long-game” approach to using it.

Q. What kind of content do you create for sponsored posts? Typically, how long is a sponsored post? Who creates it, and how?

Orsi: Our sponsored posts are generally between 500 and 1,200 words, and we try to include four to five photos with every post. We have a master content calendar for the year that we work off of, but also create topical posts when the chance arises. Our posts are created two ways: Either I create the post and solicit input from Lynette [Lynette Helms, CEO of Real Estate Associates] and the agents, or an agent will come to me with a 50-75 percent complete post about a specific topic that I will edit for publication. (I work for Real Estate Associates’ advertising agency, Grouper Design.)

The columns are either exclusive to the news outlet or modified versions of posts on our blog. We try to make our posts informative rather than sales-y by writing about relevant topics in the local market or in real estate in general, and tie in photos of our listings that match up to the topics. The photos add to the story, but are not the story themselves.

Q. How much do you pay your local newspaper to publish a sponsored post?

Orsi: We can’t share exact numbers, but you can expect to pay anything from $500 to $2,000 per month, based on the size of your local news outlet and their pricing model. We target the outlets with the highest “value of audience” to us, rather than simply searching for the most impressions. Some outlets charge per post, or by impressions, and others charge a flat monthly fee for the ability to post content to their website. The end goal of our sponsored content is to generate calls on the properties listed and position ourselves as the experts in our market, driving more listings into our inventory.

Q. Does a sponsored post appear on the newspaper’s home page?

Orsi: Yes. It appears in line with the other news stories for that particular day, and is also featured in the “Columns” section on the newspaper’s home page.

Q. Can you point to any measurable benefit of sponsored posts? Do you get to see clicks it generates?

Orsi: Yes. The local media outlet provides us with a Google Analytics report that we cross-check against our own analytics dashboard.

Q. Can you connect any leads or even closings to any past sponsored posts?

Orsi: Still a new outlet for us — we do receive calls regarding articles on our blog. An agent of ours has had a historic home she’s currently listing featured in two other media outlets thanks to exposure generated from the sponsored content stories.

Q. Care to share any other insights?

Orsi: The most important thing is to keep the content fresh. If you let it get stale, the entire program will die and you’ll lose any chance of building a following and generating leads. It’s work — setting aside time to write and edit the articles is key.

Either designate a staff member or staff members to write them in rotation, or hire an outside resource that knows your market that you can trust to get it done. As long as you can ensure you have the time to do it, it will be worth it. The other thing is that photography is HUGE. Professional, high-resolution shots of any home or land featured in a post is an absolute must.

It’s a great medium for showing off your knowledge of the local market and the caliber of homes in your inventory. Sponsored content, especially in a column format like we write, takes a little time to get some traction with readers, but once you find your voice it’s a powerful marketing tool.

We’re playing a short and a long game by working to source leads and calls from the article in the near term, but also working to position ourselves to the reader that might not be looking to list their home now, but might want to put it on the market in six months to a year and needs to know that Real Estate Associates agents are the experts in the market.

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